How are we feeling about Anna Calvi? In the raft of hype, anti-hype, Sound Of This and list of that, it’s a little hard to work out exactly what the party line is. Are we excited by the bold new talent, or are we deflated by the saturation? Tell us. Lest we be forced to make up our own minds.
Clearly, that’s something the photographer’s union have already done. For large portions of tonight the front row of this small Hoxton space was almost entirely made up of those with lenses thrusting their telescopics and contorting their bodies into finding the perfect angle.
In fact, the sole punter up there not taking pictures ended up looking quite sheepish. Peering at Calvi with a hangdog expression, his eyes pleading for her not to dismiss him as the worst kind of masturbatory leering pervert simply because he was within touching distance for non-professional reasons.
There was a touching moment part way through, where the pressure of standing-out just seemed to get too much. And out came his phone, photo-app at the ready, in a seemingly desperate attempt to fit in.
It was easy to see what the snappers and lone-phone-man are getting excited about. Regardless of anything else, Calvi has definitely got an aesthetic, all lips (red) and eyes (dark) and eyebrows (aggressively arching). To be fair to those eyebrows, and without naming names, you could credit them with more talent and charisma then several of the artists who topped the charts in 2010.
One person who doesn’t seem to get the fuss – based on the slightly awkward and embarrassed way she greets something as prosaically congratulatory as a round of applause – is Calvi herself. But when she plays, the passion burns. She coaxes and caresses her guitar, and whether she’s evoking bluesy torch songs or single handedly creating woozy, hazy, Mazzy Star-like swells, (or doing both simultaneously on the opening Rider To The Sea) her intensity is startling.
And the intimacy is occasionally uncomfortable. During Morning Light her voice drops to a cracked whisper, the instrumentation falls away in sympathy, and an entire audience shuffles slightly, wondering if Calvi actually realises we’re still here and whether we should possibly give the girl some privacy. No one does, of course. Because as the voyeurs and diary-readers amongst you will attest, there’s something incredibly intoxicating about being party to something that you shouldn’t be.
The material is given a slightly starker treatment live than on record, losing some of the additional instrumentation bombast and some of the studio polish, which also really suits. Because actually, when Calvi does less, it does more. It humanises her. It’s rootsier, and more interesting. And, most reassuringly, it makes her appear less like some ephemeral chosen-by-survey, gone-by-November, sound-of participant, and more like an artist in it for the long haul.